The summer season is coming to a close. You’ve put up bushels of green beans and canned more relish than you’ll ever use. If the thought of one more water bath makes you cringe, allow the freezer to free you from canning drudgery.
Freezing is a quick and convenient way to preserve garden produce. Vegetables and fruit keep their fresh taste in the freezer. Color, flavor and valuable nutrients are locked in. Vegetables like broccoli and green beans soften to mush with other preservation methods, but maintain a crisp texture in the freezer.
Make ahead freezer meals and side dishes are a weeknight savior for busy families, and can make healthy eating more accessible. Freeze portion-size meals to simplify packing a lunch for work or school. Freezer meal prep boosts health and saves money by helping you avoid unhealthy and expensive fast food.
How to freeze food
Prep food. Select firm, vibrant-colored vegetables and fruit to freeze. Food picked at peak maturity keeps best. Wash produce with clean water. Do not soak. Scrub tough-skinned produce with a brush to remove dirt and debris. Rinse very well.
Blanching. Scald produce in boiling water, then submerge in an ice-bath. There are 2 benefits to blanching before freezing. First, blanching deactivates ripening enzymes that cause food to spoil. Second, it helps maintain flavor, color and texture during freezer storage. The National Center for Home Food Preservation provides a list of recommended blanching times http://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze/blanching.html.
Treat fruit. Fruit browns as it loses vitamin C and natural enzymes. Treat fruit with ascorbic acid (vitamin C) to prevent browning in freezer storage. I use Fruit Fresh by Ball. Fresh Fruit is a mix of dextrose, ascorbic acid and citric acid. It is available wherever Ball Jars are sold. A fellow freezer preservationist suggests freezing fruit in a sugar syrup or coating in a mix of sugar and lemon juice before freezing also prevents discoloration.
Containers. Glass or plastic containers are versatile, durable, and have tight seals to prevent freezer burn.
Vacuum sealers are an effective and economic way to preserve a large amount of frozen food. The thick plastic bags are designed to lock out moisture and air that cause storage spoil. Lay vacuum sealed food flat in the freezer to save space. Buy vacuum seal bags by the roll to save money.
Choose appropriate sized containers for the volume of food you plan to preserve. Foods with high water content expand when frozen. Produce contains up to 90% water. Leave ¼ to ½ inch space at the top of the container for safe expansion.
Make sure container is tightly sealed before storing. Label container with contents and date to find the food you want, when you want it.
Freezer settings. 0 degrees Fahrenheit or below is the right temperature to keep frozen food safe and at peak freshness. Bacteria multiplies and causes spoil in temperatures warmer than 0, and food quality deteriorates.
Most deep freezers don’t have a built in thermometer to tell you the temperature. You can purchase a freezer thermometer from any home store. An inexpensive model costs less than $5, and is sufficient to monitor freezer temperature.
Troubleshooting and tips
- Freezer burn is caused by moisture evaporating off the surface of food. Vacuum sealed freezer bags hug tight to the surface of food, preventing evaporation.
- Thawing frozen food on the counter is not recommended. Defrosting in the microwave or thawing in the refrigerator is best.
- Refreezing vegetables or fruit after thawing is safe, but flavor, texture and quality suffers.
- Properly frozen produce keeps for 1 year. After 1 year quality lessens, but vegetables and fruit are still safe to eat.
- Minimize freezer temperature fluctuations to maintain freshness.
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